South-Western Bulgaria: The Hidden Gems
We aren’t surpised it’s taken some time for people to check out south-western Bulgaria. Bulgaria as a whole has been a favorite tourist destination for a while. There’s a lot of it to see. It has the best of all worlds, whichever kind of traveler you are.
Mountains thickly forested for hiking, camping and skiing. Seaside beaches. A lively, eclectic city energy in Sofia. Not to mention all of the historical sites, like Plovdiv.
Bansko & Pirin National Park
Yet one of our favorite areas to visit and revisit is the south-western part of Bulgaria. This year, we spent part of the winter in Bansko. It’s a quaint town that caters to ski-tourism in the cold and outdoor adventures in the warmer months.
Of course there’s much more to do for winter and summer activities, and we’re sure you’ll find something that strikes your fancy.
For Further Reading: 15 Best Things to Do in Bansko
Kuker Festival in Razlog
Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect for the Kuker festival. It dates back to the Thracians and the costumes are different in different regions in Bulgaria.
In Razlog, the Kukeri have long hair and huge conical masks. The masks are for protection against bad forces (much like the origins of Halloween).
They wear bells and dance, marking the end of winter and beginning of spring. Other dancers wore vividly-colored costumes, bright scarves and vests. They held hands, dancing in circles to traditional music.
All in all, it was an unforgettable experience. There are many of these Kuker festivals, so if you happen to be in Bulgaria at the right time, definitely go.
For Further Reading: Schedule of Festivals Bulgaria 2020
Rupite Hot Springs
If you’re looking for an unassuming, quiet place to relax in balmy and healthy waters – look no further.
They’re about chest-level when sitting in deeper parts, but the mists from the springs give you the illusion you’re isolated. Many people use the mud as a rub, letting it dry and rinsing it off for a natural body mask.
There is a small café with basic hot snacks, chips and cold drinks. Entrance is free.
It’s the only place in Bulgaria we’ve visited 3 times, and we’ll definitely stop by it again in our travels.
For Further Reading: Travelista’s Best Places for Backpackers in Bulgaria
Baba Vanga, the Seer
In a 5-minute walk from the hot springs is a park ‘Baba Vanga’ (‘Grandmother Vanga’) established, along with a small chapel.
Baba Vanga was a blind prophetess and healer, so it’s no surprise she felt comfortable near the soothing hot springs.
They say many of her predictions came true, including the reason for the large stone cross across from the enclosed park.
She wanted a cross to remember those ‘lost to the eruption of Kozhuh, in their memory.’ A few years ago, archaeologists started finding remains of the city.
St. Petka Balgarska ChapelS
The chapel she fought to have, she also insisted on being non-denominational. She chose the former volcano site for the chapel, the park and the house she spent most of her time in later years.
The park is pretty, with small ponds that are home to schools of fish and turtles. Oddly, there’s also a back pen filled with birds including full-plumed peacocks.
A little bridge leads through bamboo to open up at the front of the chapel. Baba Vanga commissioned artist Svetlin Rusev, which made church officials less than happy, calling them ‘unorthodox.’
And strangely, a border of monastery rooms surrounds the chapel – but there are no monks.
Entrance is free, hours: Mon/Wed/Fri: 08:00-15:00; Tue/Thu: 12:00-19:00